Christian responses to COVID-19 government overreach

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Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way

Before I get started, allow me to put my disclaimer in the very first paragraph in bold print: I am not saying that COVID-19 is not a big deal, and I do not “want people to die.” If you feel that knee jerk reaction welling up inside you for the rest of this blog, smash the page up button and come back here. I am not saying that COVID-19 is not a big deal, and I do not “want people to die.”

Is it new or continued?

I don’t want people to die so much so, in fact, that I’m seriously concerned about the economic and civil rights consequences of actions taken by the federal and state governments, particularly those that affect me and mine the most in the form of South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster’s executive orders. He issued a new one Monday to either extend the state of emergency or declare a new state of emergency, depending on which paragraph you read, regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s the problem. The Governor can’t extend a state of emergency over 15 days without the approval of the General Assembly, and he has now unilaterally done exactly that twice, citing South Carolina’s Code of Law 25-1-440.

In truth, the new executive order is violating the law and is not declaring a “new” state of emergency. The word “ongoing” appears nine times in the new order. Section 1H also declares that all the former COVID-19 related executive orders will continue in full effect. Ergo, McMaster has unilaterally, illegally extended the state of emergency, because the General Assembly did not give him the go ahead.

And, of course, the administration is arguing that since the General Assembly wasn’t in session and didn’t explicitly object, their consent was implied, which is emphatically not what the law says. Tell me that isn’t a can of worms.

Definitions matter

The governor’s previous work-or-home order, which is really a nicer name for a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, is also problematic in that it violates the spirit of South Carolina law. Yes, the government avoided the words “isolate” and “quarantine” for the order and instead used the term “curfew,” but we all really know that this was a quarantine of the healthy because they explicitly said it was to mitigate a health threat. This is in direct contradiction with our legal code. Apologies for the legalese, but the full definition warrants reading, from SC Law 44-4-130.

(N) “Isolation” and “quarantine” mean the compulsory physical separation (including the restriction of movement or confinement) of individuals and/or groups believed to have been exposed to or known to have been infected with a contagious disease from individuals who are believed not to have been exposed or infected, in order to prevent or limit the transmission of the disease to others; if the context so requires, “quarantine” means compulsory physical separation, including restriction of movement, of populations or groups of healthy people who have been potentially exposed to a contagious disease, or to efforts to segregate these persons within specified geographic areas. “Isolation” means the separation and confinement of individuals known or suspected (via signs, symptoms, or laboratory criteria) to be infected with a contagious disease to prevent them from transmitting disease to others.

“And why does this even matter?” you may ask. “I thought that you were all about Jesus on this blog.” 

And, yes, I absolutely am! And because I’m all about Jesus on this blog, that means he’s Lord of the universe, and Henry McMaster answers to him. We don’t live in an autocracy; the executive branch does not wield all authority to do whatever they think is best in a given moment. We have checks and balances for a reason, and that concept is rooted in Scripture.

What God says about it

What God has defined as a just quarantine practice is essentially how South Carolina has defined it; it’s just that we chose to ignore both what God said and what the state has codified. While a better case than I can write can be found here, I will emphasize that quarantine is of the sick, not the healthy, and even United States Attorney General William Barr has strong words for this policy.

“These are unprecedented burdens on civil liberties right now. … The idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest,” Barr said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t justified. I’m not saying in some places it might still be justified. But it’s very onerous, as is shutting down your livelihood.”

Barr is correct. Lockdown can be a judicious practice under the right conditions, but it’s an uphill battle to say that what state governments have done is a good call.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t exercise prudence and that social distancing may be the best practice at the moment. It does mean, however, that these measures aren’t legitimately spelled out within our laws, which means that the government is not permitted to do them.

The Christian response

As Christians, our first response should not be to flout any illegal governmental act, but we are absolutely well within our rights to point a finger and sternly say, “I honor your position, but you can’t do that,” respectfully, of course.

And while this right is guaranteed in the First Amendment, I’ll provide biblical support.

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law basically tells him he’s doing everything wrong. The result is the foundation of representative government and federalism.

In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan calls out David for his affair with Bathsheba, abuse of power, and murder of Uriah.

The book of 1 Kings is rife with stories of conflict between the prophet Elijah and Ahab and Jezebel. The highlight, of course, is Elijah mocking and defeating the prophets of Baal. “Your god can’t hear you because he’s dropping a massive deuce. Instead of sending fire here, he’s using his match to clear out the stank.”

And in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly rebuked the Sanhedrin for abuses of power and heretical self-righteousness. I won’t even link to a specific reference because there are so many scattered throughout the Gospels.

Acts 5 features Peter telling the authorities that he must obey God rather than men in regards to the preaching of the Gospel. Again, he wasn’t making the case for a full scale rebellion or initiating the boogaloo.

Paul makes bold use of his legal rights several times in Acts, both in regards to punishment and due process. He then used his due process to make an impassioned plea to Agrippa to repent and trust in Christ.

And that is my plea to the Governor of South Carolina. Though I’m not making any judgement of his current eternal state, the Governor needs to repent of this nonsense and look to God for true wisdom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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